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  • Writer's pictureJorge Petit

Promoting Hope and Healing: Increasing Awareness About Depression

October is National Depression Education and Awareness Month and this blog is focused on increasing awareness about depression. In the United States, depression is an all too prevalent and serious public mental health issue. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental health conditions—in 2021 approximately 21 million adults (8.3% of the adult population) had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

nimh depression graphic

Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, changes in appetite, energy or sleep and a sense of worthlessness or guilt. It can seriously impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life; ranging from mild to severe and in some cases include suicidal thoughts or acts if left untreated. The impact of depression is far-reaching—affecting not only the individuals experiencing it but also their friends and families, workplaces, and communities—and depression can lead to decreased productivity at work, increased healthcare costs, and higher rates of other conditions such as anxiety disorders and chronic physical illnesses.

While depression affects individuals across all age groups, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities—it has a disproportionate impact on minority groups with systemic inequities in access to supports and services. For example, the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data showed that while approximately 6.8% of Latinos reported severe MDD only 67% had received any treatment. Similarly, a 2021 report showed suicide rates decreased in the United States by 3% in 2020, but increased among men of color during that period. Bias, stigma, mistrust, sub-optimal or lack of insurance coverage, limited provider(s) from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds (only 2% of psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists in the United States are Black) are some of the reasons for these health disparities.

Awareness, education, destigmatization, as well as improved access to timely, affordable and high-quality mental health care are essential components of addressing depression (and other behavioral health conditions) and reducing its prevalence and impact. We need more coordinated efforts that involve individuals, families, healthcare professionals, and policymakers in order to better support those affected by depression and ultimately promote mental well-being.

Here are concrete, specific action items that can increase awareness about depression and promote hope and healing for individuals, families, communities and society as a whole:

Reducing Stigma: Awareness initiatives help break down the stigma associated with mental health conditions, including depression. Increasing understanding and fostering more open conversations can help individuals with depression to seek help without fear of judgment or discrimination.

Encouraging Early Intervention: When people are educated about the signs and symptoms of depression, they can more readily identify those in themselves or others earlier. Early intervention is key to managing depression effectively and preventing it from worsening; it is estimated that there is an 11-year delay between onset of symptoms and treatment.

Promoting Hope: Awareness campaigns provide valuable information about depression; fostering hope and empathy and creating a more supportive approach for those struggling.

Educating on Available Resources: Many individuals may not be aware of the resources and treatments available for depression, including therapy, medications, support groups, and helplines and how to access them. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.

Preventing Isolation and Loneliness: Depression often leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness. By promoting awareness, individuals experiencing depression can realize they are not alone and provide some level of comfort and encouragement to seek help.

Improving Workplace and School Environments: Education and awareness about depression helps employers, educators, and colleagues recognize signs of depression and how to provide appropriate support. These can lead to improved internal mental health policies and supportive environments within workplaces and educational institutions. Consider Mental Health First Aid for your setting.

Enhancing Public Health: Depression is a critical public mental health issue and by raising awareness we can better advocate for more proactive policies and funding for needed mental health programs.

Preventing Suicide: Depression is a leading cause of suicide. When people are informed about the signs of depression and suicide risk factors, they are better equipped to help someone in crisis and potentially prevent suicides through timely intervention and support. Read more about this in my prior blog: Breaking the Stigma: Talking About Suicide Awareness and Prevention

 

Seeking Help and Treatment Options


There are a number of evidence-based treatment options for depression that have been rigorously researched, tested, and proven to be effective as well as number of self-care strategies that are considered essential in managing depression and improving mental well-being. These strategies help individuals develop healthier responses to stressors and enhance their overall quality of life. It's important to note that the most effective approach to treatment often involves a combination of approaches that are specifically tailored to an individual’s specific needs and preferences.

While this is not an exhaustive list, nor a substitute for a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional and an appropriate referral to care, here are some self-care supportive and treatment options for depression:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Medication

Problem Solving Therapy (PST)

Mindfulness and Meditation

Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques

Physical Exercise

Sleep Hygiene

Healthy Eating

Engagement in Hobbies and Leisure Activities

Connection with Supportive People

Educational Workshops and Self-Improvement

Depression, remains for too many a silent struggle, yet education and open dialogue can break the barriers of stigma and misconception that surround it. By familiarizing ourselves with the signs, causes, and available treatment options, we can break through the isolation that often accompany depression and so many other behavioral health conditions.


Let’s use this month to set the stage for a call to action: urging us to support each other, seek professional help when needed, and intentionally build community that prioritizes mental health and well-being. By sharing our stories and educating others on the resources available we can pave the way for a more empathetic world where individuals struggling with depression can find the understanding, care, and hope they deserve. Let us all promote awareness and education to assist individuals on their path towards mental health recovery and healing.

 

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders or visit the online treatment locator.










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